Author Topic: Analysis of the first word, atha  (Read 649 times)

Dr. Sadananda

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Analysis of the first word, atha
« on: February 27, 2015, 12:57:52 PM »
Analysis of the first word, atha

      sha~Nkaraachaarya points out the expression -atha- has two fold function; one is -atha- as a sound (shabda ruupena) and second is -atha- as the word (pada ruupena). In the form of a sound, it denotes or produces auspiciousness. That is, -atha-, shabda ruupena mangala janakam. The very sound of the word -atha- as mere vibration (shabda ruupena) produces auspiciousness(mangala janakam). When the word -atha- functions as a -padam-, then it is -artha bodhakam- that it provides a particular meaning. To be technical, Shankara says: prameya ruupena mangala janakam, pramaaNa ruupena arthabodhdakam.

      Why does Vyaasaachaarya uses this word -atha- in this two-fold function? Because, this is the first suutra of the text and should therefore begin with mangalam or auspicious sound. In our tradition, any text that begins without the mangalam is considered as amangalam text or inauspicious text, and we are not supposed read that. Hence every text starts with some prayer sloka. This is benediction for removing any obstacles (vighna nivaaraNaartham) and receiving the blessings of the Lord for the successful fulfillment of the work. In addition, it is the recognition by the author that it is an offering to the Lord and that the Lord is behind the action both as an propeller and a supporter, without whose help the work cannot be undertaken. It is also an invocation by the student of the shaastra to help understand the shaastra in its correct import. Since Vyaasaachaarya is writing the text in suutra form, one cannot have an invocation sloka. He has to reduce the size of the sloka to a word or two since this is a suutra text (alpaaksharam). Vyaasa ingeniously uses just one word to do both functions mentioned above.

      How do we know that the sound 'atha' is auspicious? There is a pramaaNa for this:

      o~NkaaraH cha atha shabdaH cha dwau etau brahmanaH puraa |
      kaNTham bhittvaa viniryaatau tena maa~Ngalikau ubhau || - reference?
      Before the creation started two sounds, Om! and atha!, issued forth from the throat of the creator, Brahma. Hence these two are considered as auspicious sounds. The two words -Om- and -atha- are ma~Ngala shabda-s. The two words are used in the conclusion of dhyaana slokas as - Om atha | Om atha | Om atha | - In the Geeta, chapters start as -atha prathamo.adhyaayaH- because -atha- sound is considered as auspicious sound.

      Now padaartham - word meaning:

      The word -atha- has many meanings according to amarakosha: it says mangala, aarambha, adhikaara, prayojana, atha shabdaH | It includes many meanings such as auspiciousness, beginning, qualification, benefit, etc., besides other meanings such as now, then, moreover, rather, certainly, but, else, what else, how else, etc. sha~Nkaraachaarya analyzes various possible meanings and ultimately arrives at one particular meaning with reference to Brahmasuutra. That meaning is -aanantaaryaaH atha shabdaH - the word means -anantaram- or thereafter or immediately after. What does that mean? Shankara says, if we take that meaning, naturally a question will arise in the mind of a listener as to -Whereafter?- Vyaasachaarya by implication can convey the pre-requisites in terms of qualification for the study of the Brahmasuutra - or adhikarii for the study of the suutra - which is one of the four requirements (anubandha chatushhTayam) of any text as outlined in the beginning. Any study should be after - yogyataa siddhi anantaram brahma jij~naasa - after acquiring the necessary qualifications one should inquire into the nature of Brahman. Thus by using the word -atha- Vyaasaachaarya implies the -niyama apekshita yogyataa-, the qualifications which should invariably proceed the study or invariable prerequisites, similar to the requirements for any higher course in any subject in a university. Now what are the invariable prerequisites for the study of Vedanta? Shankara says- saadhana chatushhTayam is the prerequisite. This is not directly mentioned by Vyaasa but it is indirectly implied by Vyaasa. By using a single short word with two syllables Vyaasa is able to convey in the suutra format the prerequisites needed for the study, the saadhana chatushhTayam. Hence the implied meaning of the word -atha- according to Shankara is -saadhana chatushhTa anantaram- - after acquiring the four-fold qualifications. Of this, -after- is the direct meaning, and the rest is the implied meaning.

      The next question is, how does one know that saadhana chatushhTayam or the four-fold qualifications are the prerequisites? The four-fold qualifications are outlined in the beginning of this chapter. There are two pramaaNa-s to show that saadhana chatushhTayam are the prerequisites for Vedantic study. The first is -yukti pramaaNam- or based on logic. The logic is called -anvaya vyatireka nyaaya - or the logic of co-presence and co-absence. This logic can be simply stated as: -yat sattve tat sattvam, yadabhaave tadabhaavaH, tasmaat tat tasya kaaraNam | meaning, when that is present this is present; and when that is absent this is absent and therefore that is a prerequisite for this. This can be simply illustrated by an example. When we add sugar, the milk is sweet and when sugar is absent the milk is not sweet - Hence we can write simply as an exercise as - sugar sattve sweet sattvam, sugar abhaave sweet abhaavaH, tasmaat sugareva sweetasya kaaraNam (this is just to illustrate the point!). Similarly from general observation we come to know that whoever has saadhana chatushhTayam he is able to get the benefit of the Vedantic study, namely moksha - like Nachiketa in the kaThopanishat, like the student in the Kena, etc. who have the necessary qualifications - the proof is in the end of the teaching they say - dhanyo.aha.n kR^itakR^ityo.aham...- etc. expressing outright joy at the discovery of their freedom from limitations. On the other hand, a student who does not have the saadhana chatushhTayam does not derive the benefit even if he does the shravaNa, manana and nididhyaasana etc. In kaThopanishat (I-2-24) a similar idea is conveyed when it says:

      na avirataH dushcharitaat.h na ashaantaH na asamaahitaH |
      na ashaanta-maanasaH vaa api praj~naanena enam aapnuyaat.h ||
      whoever does not give up the foul actions, and whose mind is always perturbed, who does not have a single pointedness and who does not have a peace of mind, even if he studies Vedanta, he cannot attain the self-realization. Shankara puts this idea nicely in his vivekachuuDaamaNi, v. # 18

      saadhanaat yatra chatvaari kathitaani maniishhibhiH |
      yeshhu satsu eva sat nishhThaa yat abhaave na sidhyati ||
      The wise people have spoken of the four qualifications that are required. Only when they are present one can attain brahma nishhThaa or established in Brahman, but when they are absent one cannot attain it. This is the logical establishment for the requirement of saadhana chatushhTayam using the logic of anvaya and vyatireka. If there is any more doubt, we can cross examine our own lives. When these four-fold qualifications are lacking, the study of Vedanta and Brahmasuutra becomes only an academic exercise involving intellectual gymnastics. Study of the suutra becomes more a cause for information rather than transformation of the person. Thus using logic, Shankara shows that saadhana chatushhTayam is required. This is called yukti pramaaNam.

      We also have shruti pramaaNam to establish that the four-fold qualifications are necessary for a vedantic student. They do not directly state them but indirectly imply them. There are many but one or two will be mentioned for reference here. Mundakopanishhat: I:ii:12

      pariikshya lokaan.h karma chitaan.h braahmaNaH nirveda-maayaat na asti akR^itaH kR^itena |
      tat vij~naartha.n sa gurum eva abhigachchhet.h samit paaNiH shrotriyamM brahma nishhTham.h ||
      It is said that a seeker has to examine carefully all his life activities or experiences to learn what is permanent and what is impermanent. From that examination learn that all his experiences and achievements are all impermanent. By implication of this statement, shruti says one should have nitya anitya vastu viveka (discrimination of what is permanent and what is impermanent), which is one of the four qualifications. nirvedamaayaat - he should get disgusted with the anitya vastu or impermanent results and having suffered enough he should know the limitation of the impermanent results and hence turn his attention away from these - That is he should have dispassion or vairaagyam. Tat vij~naartham sa gurumeva abhigachchhet - he should approach a guru seeking the permanent solution for his problem. This indicates the mumukshutvam a desire for the freedom from limitations. Thus the sloka indicates the need for Viveka, vairaagya and mumukshutvam, discrimination, dispassion and the desire for liberation for a student seeking brahmavidya.

      The same idea is presented in kaThopanishhat through the story of Nachiketa, who is the glorious example of the person possessing all these four qualification to the degree that the teacher Yama praises him to heavens that he had not seen such a deserving student. When Nachiketa requests for the Vedantic knowledge, Yama tempts him by offering everything including a blank check to shun him away from his desire to know the means for liberation. Nachiketa rejects all the offers without any hesitation and insists that he wants only the brahmavidya and nothing else. The moral of the story is if I want to gain brahmavidya like Nachiketa, I should be after Moksha like him and throw away dharma artha kaama like -kaaka-vishhThaayaam yathaiva- (a statement of Shankara in Aparokshaanubhuuti) meaning -like a droppings of a crow- We just immediately wipe it out and do not claim that getting rid of kaakavishhThaa, crow drops, is a great achievement. Just as a person throws away effortlessly or without thinking twice kaakavishhThaa, one should reject all the pleasures of the fourteen worlds. Nachiketa did not ask for time-out to contemplate whether to take Yama's offer or not. It was an outright rejection without a second thought. Through Nachiketa story, shruti is guiding us to select shreyas over preyas (permanent liberation over temporal pleasures) that is to have appropriate discrimination, viveka, to select shreyas over preyas, and vairaagyam or dispassion towards preyas, and mumukshutvam - the necessity of all these four-fold qualifications is presented. Yama says to Nachiketa (Katha Up.I-2-2):

      shreyaH cha preyaH cha manushhyameta\ stau sampariitya vivinakti dhiiraH |
      shreyaH hi dhiiraH abhi preyasaH vR^iNiite preyaH mandaH yoga-kshemaat vR^iNiite ||
      Man has always a choice between shreyas (what is good) and preyas (what is pleasurable). Only an intelligent saadhak after contemplating decides to select what is good over what is pleasurable. The dull witted ones are the ones who select for sense of security and pleasure and go after the sensuous objects. Thus scripture is guiding us to go after disciplined life which helps to acquire the saadhana chatushhTaya sampatti.

      Hence the necessity of the four-fold qualifications for a student of brahmavidyaa are given in shruti in one form or the other. In these shlokas, we get information about viveka, vairaagya and mumukshutvam. What about the shama aadi shhaTka sampatti? Where is it mentioned in the shruti? In bR^ihadaaraNyaka Upanishhad IV:iv:23 these are clearly mentioned. There is a sloka that says:

      shaantaH daantaH uparataH titikshuH shraddhaa
      vitto bhuutvaa aatmanyeva aatmaanam pasyet|
      In this statement shamaadi shaaTka sampatti is also emphasized. How about that samaadhaana in that group of six which is not mentioned in the above mantra? The BR^ihadaaranyaka has two versions, one belonging to kaanva shaakha and the other belonging to maadhyandina shaakha. In one shaakha shraddha is mentioned and in the other it is said as 'samaahito bhuutva' indicating the need of samaadhaanam as qualification. This is also stated in subaala upanishhat 9:12. Thus all the four-fold qualifications for a student are mentioned in one form or the other in the shruti.

      Thus with yukti pramaaNa and with shruti pramaaNa, Shankara proves that -atha- means -saaddhana chatushhTaya anantaram-, that is -after acquiring the four-fold qualifications.

      In the next section we take puurvapakshi's or objector's arguments against the above implied meaning for the atha shabdaH. My deep thanks to shree sunder hattangadi for helping me in the transliteration and in getting the correct references for the upanishat mantra-s. Any mistakes are mine.

      In this section below, we take a few puurvapaksha-s or objections against the above-implied meaning for atha shabdaH.